Carlos Reichenshammer, chief executive officer of the Home Builders Association of jackson County. - Photo by Jamie Lusch

Taking a look at the state of homebuilding

Q: Has the mission of the Home Builders Association changed during the economic downturn?

A: If anything, the mission has intensified. Our mission statement is very clear: We work at the legislative level to be (a) positive voice to improve opportunities for home ownership, locally and statewide. Also we extend a helping hand through community outreach. Our Building Hope program is geared to assist people, either in trouble making monthly payments or going into foreclosure, and (help) them to stay in homes. We provide counseling and pay for a psychologist to meet with families in financial trouble, taking three to five sessions to help them through the process. We also raise funds through our golf tournament and the Festival of Trees.

Q: How has the makeup of the Home Builders Association of Jackson County changed?

A: The mix is the same — builders, subcontractors, associates, suppliers, title companies and so forth. Our numbers are down from a peak of 500 to about 300 members, (which is) directly related to the economic situation. The main things we have that generate funds for our budget besides dues are the home shows. We have two home shows, springtime and fall in September and February. They are going up in attendance and the number of vendors. The fall show had 185 vendors, and in spring we had 250. Comparing 2010 versus 2009, spring was about 11 percent better and fall 8 to 9 percent better.

Q: How do you interpret the added interest?

A: We added instructional seminars to the home show for the general public and tradespeople on green building, energy conservation and clean air. We especially talked about tax incentives from federal, state and local governments. The biggest impact for the vendors is that they got more sales and sales leads than in the past. They were home-improvement related — remodeling kitchens, bathrooms or adding a bedroom ... as opposed to new construction.

Q: What can be done to improve home building in the area?

A: We are part of the state and national associations, as well. Legislatively, we are working very hard at both levels. The main problem for builders is there is no financing for new construction — that's the biggest one. At the national level, the House passed HR 6191, aimed at making construction loans part of the small-business lending bill. That had been excluded from the original bill. The main thing for builders is to try to stay in business and hope funds become more available. Land prices have gone down considerably, and cost of construction has gone down because people are lowering their prices. The local situation is no different than the national picture. What we are spending a lot of time on is giving classes to members dealing with financing, how to (manage) business, all the way to green-building classes ... implementation of energy-conservation measures, heating and air conditioning and clean air. We (are) involved in Energy Star, Earth Advantage and LEED programs. We're teaching those classes and certifying builders, so they know how to build in a particular way. We have seen an increase in attendance at those classes.

Q: All of the green-building education has developed a new approach to building. Have the builders embraced the approach?

A: Absolutely. The end result is lower energy bills, and that has to do with the systems installed at construction time. You have passive solar, where we can do a few things to use the energy of the sun without too much dependence on mechanical systems. On the roof, you can have a roof garden instead of traditional roofs. We have seen a change in the building techniques beyond the required building code. We are building beyond the code, with higher insulation values under the floor, in the attic and inside the walls, to reduce the amount of heat and cold into the house.

Q: How have home styles changed and what led to those changes?

A: First of all, you are seeing homes designed to utilize the space more effectively. Instead of a 5,000- or 6,000-square-foot house, you are seeing 2,400-square-foot houses. The formal living and dining room have given way to a big great room connected to the kitchen. The great room houses the TV and a dining nook. It's the heart of the home. The formal dining area was furnished, but only used a couple times of (year). So we're more realistic about using those spaces. For retiring people there was a trend: Two people wanting 4,000- or 5,000-square-foot homes with a rec room, pool table, a study with a library and an exercise room with a wine cellar. They may have even had an elevator. They used the rooms, but they were larger spaces. From the energy-consumption point of view, the amount of time used was enough. We try to combine functions to make better use of each square foot. So the trend goes to smaller and more efficient home(s).

Q: Stucco seemed to become popular here in the 1980s. What are we seeing today?

A: We went through (a) period when it became popular. There were some large subdivisions designed with that style, and it set the pace. There were some projects where synthetic stucco was used, not so much in our area, but in northern Oregon. It became a problem with concentration of mold, but here we went with a regular, concrete-based stucco. The last few years, there haven't been many changes because there has been very little building. What we've got is eclectic in that what is being built on a much smaller scale presents trends of its own. People are catering to their own styles. There is a definite trend away from wood siding going to concrete siding. There are cement-based products that are impervious and won't warp or rot. That requires a lot less maintenance.

Reach HomeLife business editor Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

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